The Perspective
FALL 2011

Teens face ‘real life’ consequences of unprotected sex

Unprotected sex, especially among teens, can have permanent and lifelong consequences. And we’re not just talking about the health consequences of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or an unwanted pregnancy, which are plenty. There are socio-economic implications, as well as daunting stigmas, associated with the spread of STDs and teen pregnancies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the estimated economic burden of the nation’s 19 million new cases of STDs, about half of which occur among teens, is $15.9 billion. Additionally, the CDC reports that “teen pregnancy accounts for more than $9 billion per year in costs to taxpayers for increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration rates among children of teen parents and lost tax revenue because of lower educational attainment and income among teen mothers.”

It is doubtful many teens have ever considered the potential economic impact of their actions when so many truly don’t understand the serious risks of having unprotected sex. Michelle Sotero, senior health educator and program coordinator of the health district’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPPP), explains that many teens don’t get the fundamental information they need, in a way they can understand. Many times, they get inaccurate information about sex from their peers, and receive little or no guidance from their parents. Teens have difficulty grasping the concept of long-term consequences for themselves, their partners, their families and possibly their unborn children.

Additionally, many teens have limited access to sexual health services. They either don’t know where they can go to get birth control; they don’t have money to pay for services; they don’t have transportation to get to services; or they don’t know that they can get services without parental consent.

Shawnta Jackson, TPPP health educator, believes honest communication is essential to helping teens have a clearer picture of their risks, as well as their choices. “A significant number of our youth are sexually active and it is our responsibility to help protect their sexual and reproductive health by simply starting a non-judgmental conversation about abstinence, safer sex and birth control,” she said.

Many times, teens feel like they have only two options when it comes to sex: to engage or to abstain, which makes them feel pigeonholed. In response, health educators emphasize to teens the choices they do have as well as the consequences of those choices. Teens can choose to have sex or not; they can choose to use protection or not, and they can choose which protection, if any, they want use.

While the overall incidence rate of teen pregnancy in the United States has decreased in recent years, Nevada still ranks second in teen pregnancy rates and seventh in teen birth rates, as reported by National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Unplanned Pregnancy in 2009. In addition to its high teen pregnancy rate, STD rates in Clark County are the highest in the age categories of 15-17, 18-21 and 22-25. Approximately 50 percent of reported STDs occur in young people between the ages of 18-24 years.

To help reduce the occurrence of pregnancy and STDs among teens, the health district’s TPPP has implemented evidence-based programs that teach teens about responsible, safer sexual behaviors. These programs, funded by a $5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, are initially offered to youth in foster care and juvenile probation, and are slated to be rolled out to the public in late 2012.

The programs help dispel common misperceptions about sex and contraception, and empower teens to use negotiation techniques with their partners to either abstain or to practice safer sex by using condoms. These negotiation techniques are important, explained Sotero, since many teens feel obligated to engage in unsafe sexual activity because of the pressure they receive from their partners.

Other areas of instruction help teens build a sense of empowerment and pride by making responsible choices, and identify specific behaviors that either reduce or increase the risk of contracting HIV or STDs, and becoming pregnant.

The health district offers teen-friendly sexual health services that do not require parental consent, regardless of their ability to pay. Girls can get birth control without an exam at the family planning clinics at the East Las Vegas and Henderson Public Health Centers, and boys can visit the Ravenholt Public Health Center’s STD clinic for condoms and exams if they suspect they have an STD.

The Southern Nevada Health District’s family planning and STD clinics offer birth control, education, pregnancy testing, counseling, STD testing, treatment and partner referral services. Last year, the two clinics served more than 28,000 clients.

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